‘Beauty and the Beast’ (2017) review: Enchanting, but feels empty

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'Beauty and the Beast' (2017) review: Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as Beast in Beauty and the Beast
Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as Beast in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Movie synopsis

The live-action remake of Disney’s animated classic Beauty and the Beast. A selfish prince is cursed by a witch to turn into a beast. He has to find someone who can love him in his beastly form by a set time, or he’ll remain a beast forever.

Beauty and the Beast (2017) review in a nutshell

Faithfully and lavishly produced, but the leads lack chemistry.

Would I recommend you watch it?

Disney fans will love it anyway. Not-yet Disney fans, watch the original animated movie instead. And if you’re a non-Disney fan, why are you reading this?

Click here to jump to the bottom for where you can watch Beauty and the Beast (2017).

Otherwise, continue reading for a full, spoiler-filled review.

Full review of Beauty and the Beast (with little to no spoilers)

Beauty and the Beast was enchanting. In terms of Disney live-action remakes, I still prefer Cinderella, but there’s enough in Beauty and the Beast to delight people who grew up watching the animated classic. The girl next to me was practically in raptures throughout the movie. (She also started singing softly during the ballroom scene, to my displeasure.)

It’s a pretty faithful adaptation of the original animated movie, with some additional scenes that helps flesh out the story further, such as Belle’s and Beast’s tragic backstories, and the talking furniture turning into inanimate objects before the spell is lifted. (That was an especially touching part because they say what they think are their final goodbyes, though we know of course that it’s not the end.)

Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson), Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in Beauty and the Beast
Cogsworth (Ian McKellen), Mrs Potts (Emma Thompson), Lumiere (Ewan McGregor) and Plumette (Gugu Mbatha-Raw) in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

I don’t like the new songs that much though. Whenever it feels like the movie is dragging a little, it’s during one of the new songs. Maybe I’m just not used to them; but were they really necessary in the first place? Also, while I know that Disney wanted to update all aspects of the movie for the adaptation, I don’t think there was a need to record the main song again with Ariana Grande and John Legend. They could have reused the Celine Dion and Peabo Bryson version (which I think is better anyway) for the end credits.

(Also, I just rewatched parts of the original movie, and I realise there is a musical number called “Human Again” with just the talking furniture. I don’t remember seeing it before. :-O In fact, when I saw the actual musical when it came to Singapore, I thought “Human Again” was a new song. But the new movie took it out, which is good, because while the song isn’t bad, it’s obviously not memorable. It would have slowed down the already long 2h 9min film.)

Luke Evans and Josh Gad stood out most to me within the cast. (The bar-stomping “Gaston” is my second-favourite musical number in the film, after “Belle”.) Gaston is still an arrogant, narcissistic ass, but Luke Evans is handsome and has great comedic timing, which helps me like Gaston here a lot more than in the original. In the end he turns downright cruel and evil of course, but when he is discrediting Belle in front of the villagers, he makes it sound logical instead of merely borne out of jealousy. I mean, they’ve never seen a creature like the Beast, and she has a magic mirror — why wouldn’t they think that it is sorcery and she has been bewitched? (Which is surprising coming from me, because I absolutely detest people who discredit those who speak the truth and label their credible evidence as hogwash. But at least this is only fiction.)

Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou in Beauty and the Beast
Luke Evans as Gaston and Josh Gad as LeFou in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Josh Gad as LeFou is also much more likeable than in the original. The original portrays LeFou as a buffoonish sycophant, but here, Josh Gad plays him like “the Fool” (a literal translation of his French name) — and like Shakespeare’s Fools, he is much wiser than he seems under his loyal sidekick veneer. He is the voice of reason that Gaston ignores, and thus is able to switch to the right side after he sees how monstrous Gaston has become.

With regards to the “gay” moment in the film, it has been hysterically overblown. It’s so subtle that you can pretend it doesn’t exist if you’re against acknowledging the existence of non-heterosexual people. No wonder Disney in Malaysia didn’t want to cut any scenes, and decided to push back the release date instead, so that the censors can decide for themselves if they still want to allow the film to be released there. Seriously, there’s more gay subtext in The Lego Batman Movie than in Beauty and the Beast.

Josh Gad as LeFou and Luke Evans as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast
Josh Gad as LeFou and Luke Evans as Gaston in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Emma Watson certainly fits the role of Belle, since they share a bookish, strong personality — but she is only an adequate actress, not a riveting one. After the transformation and we see Dan Stevens as the human prince, the chemistry between them is lacking. That’s how the movie feels at times — lavish and faithful in all the ways that matter, but empty beyond that. But if you ask me how they could have made the movie feel more substantial, I would have no clue either. Maybe lead actors who are more engaging could have made the difference?

Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as Beast in Beauty and the Beast
Emma Watson as Belle and Dan Stevens as Beast in Beauty and the Beast (2017)

While I was always going to watch the movie, I wasn’t enthused by the CGI look of the Beast when I saw the trailer. His eyes just didn’t look right to me, and they still don’t look right to me. I also wish Mrs Potts and Chip have livelier faces. Among the furniture, Cogsworth and Plumette are rendered the best. But of course, nothing beats the original for characters that look sprightly and comical.

The talking furniture in the animated Beauty and the Beast (1991)
The talking furniture in the animated Beauty and the Beast (1991)

However, I do love Belle’s celebration gown at the end of the film. It’s even nicer than her yellow ballgown.

Belle's celebration gown
Belle’s celebration gown at the end of Beauty and the Beast (2017)

But in terms of costumes, the live-action Cinderella still rules them all.

Lily James as Cinderella at the ball
Lily James as Cinderella at the ball

Where to watch Beauty and the Beast (2017)

Streaming services: Beauty and the Beast (2017) is not on Netflix Singapore or US, Amazon Prime Video, or Hulu. Since it’s a Disney movie, it should end up on Disney+ sometime in the future, though it’s not there now.

Rent/Buy: Get it on iTunes, Amazon, Vudu, Microsoft, FandangoNOW, Redbox

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